In today’s Gospel (John 15:9-11), Our Lord tells us something for the explicit purpose of imparting His joy to us, so that our “joy might be complete.” What was this joy-producing message? It was this:
“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” The connection between keeping the commandments and loving God is a recurring theme in the biblical writings of St. John, and in this particular instance we hear it from the Lord Himself, with the motive that we might be filled with joy.
Two weeks ago I told my six-year-old son Samuel that he is developing into a fine young Christian man, and that I thought that he would be ready this year to make his First Confession. I told him, however, that in order to make a good Confession, he would have to know the commandments. He replied, “I know them already.” I was justifiably skeptical, so I asked him what they were. He answered: “Obey your parents, don’t pick your nose, listen to your teacher . . .”
Obviously Sam still needs a little work (and a handkerchief).
But in our own lives as adults, do we experience the observance of the commandments as simply following a bunch of arbitrary rules, or as the means of discovering the complete joy that the Lord wants to give us?
In creating us in His image and likeness, God gave us free will and expects us to use it well. He doesn’t coerce us to love Him and follow His commandments.
Human freedom is widely misunderstood today, as many understand freedom as existing apart from the truth about God and about human nature. Freedom has become a very personal, exclusively subjective reality that boils down to the ability to do whatever I might feel like doing at a particular time, apart from the “rightness” or the “goodness” of such choices. This, of course, is not authentic human freedom, but mere license or whim.
And so Our Lord today reminds us–as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us last week–that obeying the commandments does not involve a renunciation of freedom. Rather, it involves the exercise of freedom to do good, rather than evil. This wise use of our freedom results in our loving God and neighbor, and brings us “complete joy.” Sounds like a ”win win” situation to me!